044: The Effects of Projection

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Welcome back to Tuff Love with Rob Kandell. The show today is around the topic of projection. It’s a very unconscious act. Wikipedia says, “psychological projection is a theory of psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities ( both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing it to others.”

There are parts of you that you don’t want to see inside of you and so you project them onto someone else. This happens all the time, it’s part of our human condition. It’s that part of the unconscious that’s the danger. One example from Wikipedia is a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse others of being rude. This incorporates blame shifting. It’s taking the energy you see inside of yourself and putting it elsewhere, rather than looking at our own bullshit.

Wikipedia explains that the projection principle was formulated and first used as the basis for a systemic critique of religion. Some more practical examples of projection are victim blaming, projection of marital guilt and bullying. Victim blaming is when the victim of someone else’s actions or bad luck may be offered criticism. This happens all the time. We’re responsible for our own lives. That’s the basic tenet of coaching. But when we don’t want to look at a part of ourselves, we think ‘They did this to me, this happened to me, I am at effect of them.’

The projection of marital guilt is when thoughts of infidelity to a partner may be unconsciously projected in self-defense onto the partner in question so that the guilt attached to the thoughts can be repudiated to blame instead. This is linked to denial. The bullying kind of projection is when a bully may project his or her own feelings of vulnerability onto the targets of their bullying activity. If there’s a part of us that feels insecure, we put it on someone else. This happens a lot with kids, especially around their sexuality and sense of confidence. What happens is that they bully other kids to avoid their own feelings.

Rob has two personal examples on the topic of projection:

  • There is a woman Rob’s connected to on Facebook that he really respects a lot. Rob wrote a post last week about his experience of how he once sold out love out of fear. From that lesson, his heart closed. He’s done a shit load of work, and now in the place his heart has reopened, and in that he knows he’ll never sacrifice love again to other voices. It was a vague, discreet, somewhat poetic blog post on Facebook.
  • Then this woman who Rob respects slammed the post hard. It was like a gut punch. She was talking about the fact that although Rob had a transformational experience, what about the woman on the receiving end? She talked about her feelings of what happened to her in a similar situation.
  • What happened was that she projected her pain onto Rob’s experience and wanted to kick his ass to have her own self feel better.
  • When these kind of things happen on Facebook, Rob never immediately responds. He always waits and sits with it to see what will happen and see what wants to arise.
  • A friend of Rob’s came in and gave some alternative viewpoints and had a dialogue with this woman, but it still wasn’t set. So Rob private messaged her and shared the details of his experience. In the end, she felt heard, Rob felt connected to her, no longer felt the angst of her angst and it was beautiful.
  • What happens is we’re often projecting or being projected on and then we get mad. For Rob, the connection is more important than being right. So to sit, to feel, to talk and have her feel heard. In the end, she actually apologized for the projection and we were really connected.
  • You can get mad when people project on you, it happens all the time. Your mastery is in how you respond to the stimuli of someone projecting.
  • In 2004 or 2005, Rob was a new teacher at OneTaste. A couple came in and the guy really annoyed Rob from the outset. He didn’t like how he was dressed or how he held the woman, and especially how he interacted with the group and started teaching some of the others. And then, Rob realized, he was a part of Rob that he couldn’t see. All the things this guy was doing were things that Rob had done and all the parts he was hating about this guy, he was actually hating inside himself.
  • The danger of identifying with this projection is to not only lose the opportunity to see and connect with another human being, but also for Rob to lose the opportunity to see and connect with that part of himself.
  • Once Rob realized he was projecting, hating this guy but really hating that part of himself, he had a choice. The choice he made was to love this guy and love the parts of himself too.
  • Projection is an opportunity to see those parts of yourself that you don’t want to see and love them too. That’s where the growth is. A lot of the projection stuff is parts in our shadow.

Rob’s tips for relating to projection:

  • Don’t take it personally. This is the first and most important tip about projection, and all of life. Don’t let your ego get sucked in to what somebody is projecting on you. It’s them. Your willingness to take on their bullshit means there’s part of you that needs to be healed.
  • Not taking it personally doesn’t mean you have to like it. Just don’t take it personally, let it fall away.
  • Take it as a very strange compliment. This may be even more challenging than not taking it personally. There’s some safety they feel in connecting with you that they can’t get anywhere else.
  • Communicate to the person who is projecting on you. The first instinct is to shut down, protect yourself, disconnect. Rob thinks you should do the opposite. When the person is projecting, go towards the person. Embrace it. Look at the parts of yourself that don’t want to connect and be willing to go in. It doesn’t mean you have to have your boundaries fall over or do anything you don’t want to do. Move towards the person, reach out and communicate.
  • Hear the feedback. This is challenging. There just might be some lesson in you that wants to come out. There is an opportunity for you to see a part of yourself that you can’t see. The feedback is valuable and happening for a reason, so be willing to hear the messages that come to you.
  • Be connected. We live with enough isolation and screens. If someone is projecting, be connected to that person. That doesn’t mean you have to like them or talk to them. It’s just your willingness to deal and confront projection enhances the person and also enhances you. Be brave, be bold, go forth, go in.

Rob coaches Doug, a firefighter, about projection.

  • Doug has a friend who is really smart, but feels like he doesn’t respect Doug because of that, and wonders if that’s projecting his own insecurities. Doug feels intimidated in this guy’s presence, and feels like he can’t contribute and that this guy doesn’t respect what he has to say.
  • On some level, Doug is deciding, based on his own fear. You have no idea truly if he is or is not interested in your opinion.
  • Rob says that Doug projecting and saying ‘he’s not interested’ is robbing that guy of the opportunity of connection. That’s coming from Doug’s fear.
  • The skill Rob wishes for Doug and all of us, is to notice when we’re projecting. Notice the moment between stimulus to response. If you can stretch that time between stimulus and response, it brings choice in how you respond.
  • On a scale of 1 – 10, Doug feels about a 5 or 6 about this guy. Doug thinks he’s very fascinating but with this guy he feels threatened so he stays away and thinks things like, ‘I don’t like him’ and ‘He doesn’t respect me.’ That’s the projection.
  • Doug’s lack of connection with this guy and lack of approach towards him is costing him. Firstly, it’s costing energy to block this guy.
  • There’s something about this guy that Doug wants, some intellectual piece that Doug’s interested in. Taking a step towards him could dissolve the angst of the projection. Choose to confront it.
  • We often spend so much time and energy trying to avoid the things we truly want for the fear of the ramifications. Instead of confronting our desires and moving towards it, we get mad and project ourselves against it.
  • Changing topic, Doug and Rob discuss where his mind is at currently. There is an intense circumstance that has arisen in his life in terms of his relationship. Now Doug is sitting with the discomfort of all the possibilities of what could happen.
  • What he’s doing now is projecting the fear onto her and on some level his future self. In that projection, it’s sort of like mental masturbation. It’s projecting into the future and out of present time.
  • The way for Doug to resolve this is to stay connected to the present, to himself and his own fear. When we have fear, if we’re not willing to confront it and look at it, we throw it like a hot potato at someone else, usually someone we love.
  • FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. But we’re making this thing real by the fear underneath it. For Doug, there are many fears but one is that their way of life will be drastically changed. The relationship will be challenged, strained, and could end.
  • It’s important to stay connected to the present fear and not think about the masculine way of solving the problem. Avoiding the feelings because you don’t want to think about it doesn’t change them. All our fears are living in our subconscious.
  • Confront it, look at it. If you don’t, then it runs you. If you’re not willing to confront your fear, dig down and look at it, then it will run you from your shadow.
  • Doug is pretty comfortable right now but is afraid his lifestyle will change. Rob says, maybe it’s time for discomfort.
  • When you don’t confront your fear, it stays as a big anchor around your legs pulling you deeper. When you confront the fear, the anchor is cardboard or Styrofoam, it floats. It’s not real.
  • Do the work, be willing to confront it and get the benefits from it. Take this as an invitation to look at your shadow and know parts of yourself. We are endless mysteries.